By Neal Eisenstein, M.B.A., MCC

Does this sound familiar?  Your direct report asks, “How would you like me to address this?”  You say, “I think you should….” However, at a certain point, if this scenario repeats itself too often, it can suggest that your people have learned to come to you for answers instead of developing confidence in their own ability to develop recommendations and solutions.

As the boss, what is your approach to developing your team?

Like many senior leaders, a reasonable response might be, “once or twice a year I send my folks to a conference or trainings” or “I try to offer my people special assignments to develop their skills.”  Having moved up the corporate ranks in the first two decades of my career and coached hundreds of rising leaders for the past 18 years, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way:

If your team is too dependent on you for answers, if they are uncomfortable making decisions, if some on your team are playing a “small game,” leaving it to you to make most of the tough calls for the business, or you’re continuing to do parts of their jobs, this diminishes impact on the business and on one’s career.  

Think for a moment about your daily grind: 12-hour days, challenging goals, texting at all hours and those exhausting calls in far off time zones. In the pressure for success, we sometimes remind ourselves, “if I can give me folks clarifying answers that help them to move quickly on their responsibilities, all the better.”  Further, we justify our decisions with thoughts like, “it’s the least I can do to support their success.”   When this happens, I’ve noticed some interesting dynamics that typically work against what leaders say they want from their teams.

As the senior leader, one of your most important responsibilities is to develop your team, their capability, courage and willingness to make tough decisions.  So, the question is, 

How are you training your team to step-up their leadership on a day to day basis?

  1. Do they come to you for too many answers?
  2. Do they miss opportunities to take a stand or are you providing “safe haven” in ways that don’t serve their development or the organization’s need for you to share the burden of leading the way?
  3. Are you delegating responsibility to provide time centered recommendations to you or are you doing the heavy lifting because you enjoy the problem – solving part of the job?

I want to suggest the larger opportunity in one’s career is to solving for raising the capability of your talent so that you’re freed up for playing a bigger game.  

The seductive dynamic of giving your team too many answers often leaves the leader and the team in transactional mode.  You might feel better, telling yourself that you are moving toward achieving short term goals.  However, what about the strategic piece?  How much time are you spending on aligning with your peers, prioritizing strategy discussions with functional teams, spending time in the market getting smarter about trends and competitive challenges?

If you can resonate with this development challenge, here are three actions that you can take to modify this dynamic:

  1. Share with your talent that you want to shift the dynamic by inviting them to proactively provide you with their plan to drive change versus you handing them too many answers.
  1. In your 1:1s, develop the patience and rigor to ask them questions, “How do you think you should go about solving for this?”  Note to self, this will be annoying and frustrating for them initially as you’ve trained them one the years to come to you for answers. Further, this will likely push your patience buttons as well. It takes a good deal of discipline to adjust one’s approach from “problem solver to listener.”
  1. If, over time, you have positioned yourself as the problem solver, the doer, the consummate executional executive, have you over-emphasized this strength?

Oh, and one more thing.  If any part of you feels guilty about even considering the prospect of putting more on your team to grow and for you to free-up time to be more strategic, watch out for reasonable reasons that hold you and them back.  If you’re a manager, you can expect to manage guilt, not just projects and process. Managing guilt comes with the job.

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If it’s been a while since you’ve worked with a thought partner to process issues like this more carefully, maybe it’s time to sharpen your thinking and raise your game.  Contact Neal for a consult.